I rested my hand on her knee and leaned in toward her again. “What’s the matter?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just forgot how much I missed them until I saw them. I really haven’t done a good job of keeping in contact with my old friends.”
I lifted my hand to her shoulder, enjoying the feeling of her soft, bare skin under my fingers. “I’m sorry.”
“No biggie.” She waved her hand. “I’m just in a funk tonight. I don’t know why.”
The loud music faded out as the DJ grabbed the microphone. “We’re gonna slow it down just a bit here, so grab the one you love and take them for a spin around the floor.”
I recognized the song as soon as he started playing it. I’d heard it on the radio every five minutes lately, and it made me think of Michelle each and every fucking time. “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran.
Completely oblivious to me staring at her, she turned around in her seat. She rested her chin on her arm and her arm on the back of her chair as she gazed out at the couples dancing around the floor. The white lights coming from the electronic disco ball bounced off her face, illuminating her sadness to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore.
I stood up and offered my hand to her. She frowned down at it for a second before realizing what I was asking. Her eyes flashed up to mine and she licked her lips as she gently put her hand in mine. “I thought Viper doesn’t dance?”
I kissed the top of it. “Viper breaks his own rules sometimes… but only for someone very special.”
As we walked out to the dance floor hand in hand, I was beyond proud to call her mine, at least for that night.
I stopped and held my hand up, twirling her out away from me before pulling her back against me as tight as I could.
“What was that?” She looked at me incredulously with the biggest grin I’d seen on her face all night.
“Don’t get your hopes up. That’s the only move I have,” I joked, wrapping my hands around her waist. She rested her forearms on my shoulders and gently rubbed the back of my neck, sending shivers all the way to my fucking toes. As we swayed to the music, she closed her eyes and rested her head on my chest.
After a minute, she straightened and glanced around the room quickly, dipping her face toward the ground just a bit. “People are staring at you.”
“I am absolutely one hundred percent certain that I’m not the one they’re staring at.”
Her eyes glistened and she pressed her lips together. “Viper—”
“Don’t,” I interrupted, smiling at her as I brushed her cheek with the back of my hand. “I know exactly what you’re going to say because you should say it, but don’t. For now, for just this song… let’s pretend, okay? You’re not Mike’s wife, and I’m not Mike’s best friend. Just this one song.”
A tear fell from her eye, but she didn’t argue as she laid her head back on my chest, right where it belonged.
OUR SONG ENDED and we made our way back to the table, both a little depressed that our time together was over.
I didn’t bother turning around. I knew it was Sarah and Nicole again.
“The party is dying down around here, and we were thinking of going to grab some coffee, or a martini.” She giggled. “Anyway, would you want to join us?”
“Oh, thanks, you guys. That’s so sweet of you, but I can’t tonight,” Michelle answered.
All I could think about while she turned down their offer was the look on her face when she’d talked about how much she missed hanging with her friends.
“Wait.” I turned in my seat to face her. “Why not?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I have the sitter and kids at home.”
“The kids are sleeping, and I can pay the sitter. You should go.”
She leaned in close. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I know I don’t have to. I want to. Seriously… I’ll go relieve Desi, and you go out for a bit with these two.” I turned to Sarah and Nicole. “Can one of you give her a ride home?”
Sarah nodded. “Absolutely.”
I shook my head slowly. “You have no reason not to go. You said yourself you missed them.”
“Oh, please, Michelle?” Nicole begged. “Just for a little while? I swear we won’t stay out late.”
Michelle’s eyes grew hopeful as they bounced back and forth between me and the girls. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Sarah and Nicole shrieked in excitement at an ear-piercing level as Michelle bent down close to me. “You sure this is okay with you?”
“Yes.” I laughed and nodded. “Go. Have fun. Keep your dress pulled down, please.”
I drove myself back to Michelle’s house, replaying that dance over and over in my head.
Could we make it work?
Could we both let go just enough to make it possible without letting go completely?
When her head had been on my chest and her arms were around me, I felt like anything was possible. That sounded so stupid and cliché, but it was true. Michelle made me feel invincible.
Once I was back at Michelle’s, I gave Desi a hundred-dollar bill and sent her on her way. I took my suit jacket off, hung it on the back of a kitchen chair, and unbuttoned my pants to let my full belly loose. I grabbed the baby monitor from the kitchen and lay down on the couch in the living room, flipping to SportsCenter on the TV.
It was weird being in that room without Michelle there. As I sat there, in the quiet house with SportsCenter muted, my mind started to wander. It was in that very room less than a year ago that Big Mike had told me he could see me married with kids. He’d told me he thought it would soften my cement heart. How fucking ironic that it was his wife I was falling for and his kids I was helping parent? My eyes shifted around the room. Pictures of Mike and Michelle’s wedding still hung on the wall. A bookcase in the corner was filled with framed pictures of their family.
The four of them at the hospital after Maura was born.
Mike and Matthew in the front yard, riding bikes.
Mike, Michelle, and Matthew at Walt Disney World.
Mike grinning with his hand on Michelle’s pregnant stomach.
Mike and Michelle kissing.
My chest started to hurt like I’d been punched square in the sternum. For a second, I thought maybe I was having a heart attack. Then I realized I wasn’t that lucky.
The living room started closing in around me as I paced the house, on the verge of a panic attack. What the fuck was I thinking hanging out there all the time? Why had I let myself get so close to Matthew and Maura? Why the fuck had I let myself fall for Michelle as hard and fast as I had? Why did I let myself fall for her at all?
Because of Big Mike, you dumb son of a bitch. You promised Big Mike you’d take care of his family, but instead you stole it.
I SPENT THE next two hours sitting at the kitchen table with my head in my hands trying to figure out what I was going to say to Michelle when she got home. I didn’t want to walk out of Matthew’s life, not at all, but I couldn’t keep coming to the house to see him. Maybe she’d let me take him once a week or something. The bigger question swirling around in my head was how long was it going to take for me to recover from this? I’d never felt like this about anyone before, and I’d certainly never lost anyone in this way. Could you ever recover from something like that?